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The Supreme Court has rightly been on everyone's mind since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday. The clean energy world was already focused on the high court, which temporarily blocked implementation of the Clean Power Plan last week, and it's wondering what the sudden vacancy means for the landmark regulation.
Released by the EPA in August, the Clean Power Plan sets state-by-state targets to limit pollution from coal-burning power plants and would cut carbon emissions by a third by 2050 and grow renewable energy resources. Though many states - including Maine - are on track to meet or surpass their targets, coal-producing states have challenged the Plan, arguing that it will lead to lower revenues and higher energy costs for their residents. The case is working its way through federal court, and the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in June. The Supreme Court apparently couldn't wait; last week it ruled 5-4 that the Plan should not be implemented until the high court itself heard the case. The decicison was both unprecedented - the Court had never before issued a stay in a case currently under review - and worrisome.
But what a difference a few days make. Scalia was one of the five justices who indicated doubts about CPP; now there are only four. Pundits and policy experts like attorney Jack Lienke are busy explaining how things might unfold now:
- If a replacement is not confirmed before the Supreme Court weighs in on the Clean Power Plan, we can assume that the court will split 4-4, and the lower court ruling would stand.
- If Scalia’s replacement is appointed by Obama, the new justice is likely to side with the liberal wing and uphold the CPP.
- If Scalia’s replacement is appointed by the winner of the 2016 election... well, then it depends on who becomes President.
Of course, many states - including some currently challenging the Clean Power Plan in court - will continue preparing for the Plan's implementation. They may find, as we have in Maine, that following the spirit of the Plan is good for the economy as well as the environment - no matter what the Court has to say about it.